BRUSHFIRE literature & arts journal
university of nevada, reno
Dear Reader, The front cover artwork, wannabe, creates what we may consider a distortion of the human form. The misplaced limbs, the asymmetry of the subject, and the scattering effect of the background dots and patches positions us in some absurd place—in a disjointing dimension. wannabe contrasts the idea of us as complete beings: we are not a solid, unified mass, nor are we so fluid. Our beliefs and perspectives change. Our bodies shed millions of cells each day and bear new ones in their place. Our dreams and fears evolve. In certain occasions this all happens simultaneously, but often we evolve in fragments. We appear whole from a distance, but if we dare explore further we will find huecos, cavities in ourselves like an avocado half with its seed chucked out. That is not to say we should despair. There is, in fact, relief in knowing that no one really has it all figured out. If you peruse the pages within this little book and by the end have felt or learned or understood something new, then we will have met our goal. We would like to thank Katera Neil for sharing her art with Brushfire; we are tremendously grateful to her for allowing us to reconstruct and reimagine some of her work for this edition. This book begins with a poem on disembodiment—of an attempt to return lost joints to their place or to understand their cause for dismemberment—and ends with a poem that embraces the body’s inevitable destruction, showing us the beautiful and visceral connection we share with the universe. The work within these pages represents the scattered and absurd kind of journey we are all compelled to take in our brief, wondrous lives. Enjoy, edgar garcia, eic
visual a lack of human knowledge
the scientific method
decompressing is a process
i stared at the back of her head for three days on the greyhound bus and she never turned around. not even once.
abstract precision watercolor
hills have eyes
by word of mouth
poetry falling apart
whatâ€™s the evening like in eden?
is it yours?
girls have it easy
their horizons lost in the dustbowl
i ate a seed off the floor
diy emo house shows
after their drive on new yearâ€™s day he napped
something about not having anything
revelation across the desert
nine hours ahead
bailey m. gamberg
prose tasting dust
the last painting
click, thump, ka-ching
falling apart melanie perish I sit in the South Valleys Library; I am together now: feet to ankles, hands to wrists, calves to knees to hip points and joints, wrists to arms to elbows to sockets. Extremities fit into pelvis or shoulders so that torso, neck, head rising from spine appear centered and able-bodied. It seems I have a whole and functioning body, a range of motion. No one can tell that earlier, the entire leg of both legs, toes to hip joints walked off and stood in a kitchen corner, while arms and fingertips to rotator cuffs detached, began rhythmic waving before hoisting themselves onto the dining room sideboard in my home. Torso twisted; neck cricked before the head bobbled and rolled out of sight somewhere in the study where your last email waits. My electronic mailbox unaware that tick-tock no longer applies to your heart because it stopped last month assumes we will resume our exchange of news, of words setting time and place for our next troika coffee with friends. The organs in my torso take comfort from their closeness to one anotherâ€” at least for the present. Loss breaks all promises; close is a relative term. 7
a lack of human knowledge
nathaniel benjamin 8
what’s the evening like in eden? natalie delbecq
Beautiful boy, apple blossom cheeks for sixteen weeks (every week a year behind, seventeen to come but you led the life line), tied to the garden in the back row hoping we’d turn around (you sent moths knowing I’m ticklish) when the cords coiling around your voice hummed gentle vanquishment, a noose by choice once they spoke for you. Lost in the dusk, moths lured by lights switching on, ditching children made from the same dirt Eden grew from (I could smell your sweatshirt hiding the pain with a feigned cologne when we’d hug around the drawstrings instead of untying them; my cheeks were reserved for whom I gave my moths already whilst in ill-fitting cloth). Is God Negligence? The moths ate through my flesh and chased you ’til death. Without you, without a light, where do they go? Are their wings suppressed or sporadic? Nonexistent? Uncertain was I . . . no. I never dared. My moths were as broken as yours.
the scientific method
reena spansail 10
is it yours? michael blane Bright clothes, long past dry sway in the breeze, slowly giving up their colors to the sun, that blushes at their dancing and the way they brush against each other. Every time I turn around the clothes surprise me, appearing to be a woman approaching. Maybe it was the domestic rabbit waiting at the top of the stairs, or maybe the way I slipped on the rainwater slime when I stepped into the shadow. Maybe itâ€™s the plants, potted in lucky red containers and tied together by red bows with gold trimming, or the way the music cuts out. Probably itâ€™s the wild fern sprouting up from under the pile of bricks and sun-hardened tapestries, the web of rusted machinery surrounded by abandoned house plants and the air pollution, which make the mountains in the east, south, and west resemble ancient brush paintings.
decompressing is a process
we fancied, laughed at feeble jokes, asked if their friends liked us, did they like us, calls after to our friends to analyze
tethered to our homes by curling umbilical cords that poked under closed closet doors where we whispered and giggled with boys
We were cloistered, our mothers hovered, eager to keep us chaste even as we made covert phone calls
to boys whoâ€™ve seen it all, and why should you worry about labels or shame, the world is casual now, no need for reproach.
You girls have it easyâ€”care-less, cyber world in your hand as you pose and sext photos: venus exposing her shell
girls have it easy
until the trouble passed and no one spoke of it again when we returned but the word hung in the air like a threat: easy.
who could fix our mistakes, no fear of the look in Mother’s eyes, of the back of Daddy’s hand, no hurried trips to far-away aunts
You girls have it easy—here, take a pill, no need for desperate phone calls to friends of friends who knew someone who knew someone
on velour back seats in drive-ins while up on the screen, a boy wondered what can you say about a girl who died.
of rounding bases one, two, and three, but really we craved the bad boys, the ones we prayed would take us in their daddies’ cars, would take us
and dissect every unsaid word, every awkward silence on the line from boys who fumbled with bra straps in basement rec rooms with hopes
i stared at the back of her head for three days on the greyhound bus and she never turned around. not even once.
tasting dust reena spansail
The day was warm, but the wind biting my raw lips reminded me that it was still February. I cursed my vanity as I shivered in my gauzy shirt, but smiled when I remembered the nervous way he had complimented it moments before. As we stepped off the pavement and sank into the soft silt we passed a sign: “You Are Now Entering Bureau of Land Management Land: Equestrian Staging Area: 0.5 Miles.” I shivered again and clutched his hand tighter. “Where are we going?” “Nowhere in particular. Didn’t you say you wanted to see the desert?” I had, but I really just wanted an excuse to get out of his parents’ house. I turned around and began to walk backwards, feet slipping in the sunken tracks of horses. I glanced shyly over at him, wondering if he was nervous too. His loping gait and even breathing suggested none of the giddiness I felt, but the way he kept picking at his fingernails betrayed him. “You can see the entire valley from up here! Not like my house—at my old place I could see the ridgeline of the mountains—but here you can see the Sierra start to rise out of the earth and into the sky! You know, when I was little I used to think that the foothills looked like the spines of dinosaurs. I was always convinced that if I stared hard enough they would poke their heads up out of the dirt . . .” 15
Looking for a way out of my ramblings I saw a half-fallen fence off to my right. I broke our grip and ran over to it, gesturing him to follow. We leaned our backs against the splintered red paint and exhaled simultaneously while our fingers intertwined again. At a loss for words, we looked west. I took solace in my constant companions, the mountains. It was hard to worry about anything when, from any view within a 50-mile radius, the mountains were there, comforting in their perpetual caress of the sky. That sky, and the ridgeline tracing it, were consummate proof that the earth was round. If you stood at the bottom of the Carson Valley and then slowly turned on the spot, you could trace the earth’s curve with the tails of rushing clouds. But that was from the bottom of the valley. From up here, higher in the foothills of the Pine Nut Mountains, the view across to the Sierra Nevada Mountains was unobstructed by trees or houses. If you kept quite still, like we were now, and looked across at the mountaintops, you could detect the subtle shifts in the color and quality of the clouds as they slid down beneath the ridge with the gathering dark. For a long time we didn’t talk. We simply watched the sun paint the clouds bright creamed yellow, then splintered rose, and finally deep, soulful violet. We let the breeze tug our hair and clothes. The soft whistling and cooing soothed my nerves, and as I inhaled, the air smelled of cold, dry sage. As the beaming clouds gave way to the sharp silhouetted ridges, I turned back to him and whispered, “Beautiful, isn’t it? It never gets old, no matter how many times the sun sets.” “It’s amazing. In fact, I think they put on a particularly good show tonight. Should we clap?” “Oh, as if the mountains wanted our applause.” And then he kissed me for the first time in the dusk-colored dust. It was breakfast time at his parents’ house, and we were down from the city visiting for the weekend. It was five years to the day after that evening on the hill, and I no longer worried about sneaking into the desert to avoid his family. His mom, Vicki, was bustling around the kitchen making her usual Sunday spread of huevos rancheros. As I waited for breakfast, I let my eyes trail over the room: a dusty wine rack made of lucky horseshoes cluttered one corner while a shiny red guitar held a place of honor in the other, which had considerably more light. On the wall was a collection of typewriter-written lyrics to lullabies that Tyler’s dad had written him and his sister when they were born. I loved his chorus the best: Singin’ Ty-yi-yi, go to sleep little Tyler, dream what little boys dream. And the dream came true with the Bitterbrush bloomed, And the wind—blew this flower—to me. 16
Reading Tyler’s lullaby made me wistful for that evening long ago, and even though it was midday and we had to return to our new home in Reno soon, I wanted to revisit that place and feel the giddy rush of new love again. I turned to Tyler, who was sipping coffee and watching the news. “Hey, do you remember that place up the street where we used to walk? Let’s go there today, smell the smells and see the sights. We haven’t done that in ages.” Tyler ditched his coffee and came over to where I was huddled on the couch. “I’m sorry, my love, but my dad asked me if I’d help him split some wood, and after that I want to work out. Couldn’t you have asked me about this earlier? You know I have to plan things. Is that okay? Will you be mad?” As he said this, he stroked my hair and held my gaze. I wasn’t angry, but I still looked down to hide my childish disappointment. “Of course. No problem. I can go alone . . .” At that moment, his mom interrupted and called to me while fiercely continuing her egg-whipping. “I’ll go with you, darling! I love going up that way! You know, Kim and I used to go out there on the horses every week. Do you mind walking with me? You could still go alone, of course.” Her sparkling eyes, so like her son’s, stopped my hesitation. I replied absolutely, that would be a delight. Maybe she would show me parts of the land I hadn’t seen before. Our stomachs heavy from the eggs, Vicki and I set off for our tour of the BLM’s desert. It was nearly noon, and the sky trumpeted cerulean blue and the clouds hurried across the white sun, but the clear, sage-scented wind teased my face just enough to remind me that it was still February. The greys of the sage, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, and little grow-between grasses reveled in their silver gilt covering the purple, green, and goldenrod of their true character. The fuchsia hills of the Pine Nuts looked nearly climbable, but I wasn’t foolish enough to try. Decomposed granite, colloquially know as DG, is quicksand’s larger-grained cousin, and it has a way of tripping hikers and horses. Climbing a hill covered in DG is a bit like running through water, but that never stops Kim, who takes the family’s dogs out on these hills every day. As I drank in the view of the mountains reaching out of the earth, Vicki chattered quail-like beside me. “Oh, isn’t it just a beautiful day! Look at that sky. Have you ever seen anything so blue? You know, when Kim and I came out West in the ’70s, that was the first thing we noticed. Kim said he could never go back to Iowa after seeing a sky like this. How did he say it? He fell in love with the West because the sun wouldn’t go away.” 17
Her chatter was broken suddenly by the yell of a helicopter breaking up the blue, but she only raised her voice, paying no mind to the machine, which was as common as the roar of the wind. “We sort of ran away, you know? Iowa was just so . . . boring.” I listened with increased interest, surprised that Vicki, who was the perfect twenty-first century working housewife, and Kim, the born-again cowboy, could have had such strong heliotropic tendencies in their younger and wilder days. The hills rose slowly in front of us as we walked deeper into the desert. I focused my eyes on the tiny rivulets of silt left over from last summer’s floods, and smiled at Vicki’s twittering voice nostalgically recalling her twenty-four months living as a park ranger’s lover, her days of pickling high-desert grown vegetables, and the first set of horses she and Kim purchased. When they bought their house down the road, their first act was to take the horses out on this same trail and let them run until their hides were soaked with sweat. We were passing that rust-red splintered fence just now, and it looked much more dilapidated then I had remembered. Now there were little white flowers growing at the base of the posts, and more of the wood grain showed through the peeling paint. But that sign was still there, and the smell of sage permeated the persistent wind, and the air was cold in my throat and eyes. And there were the mountains, caressing the sky. “Oh, it was just the perfect day.” Vicki gushed, her eyes glazed with fondness. “I remember I wore blue that day, and Kim told me I looked like a beautiful cowgirl!” I had left Vicki to ramble too long, and I blushed with guilt. She misinterpreted my redness, taking it as a sign that perhaps her nostalgia had gone too far. I looked back encouragingly, trying in a smile to convey my respect and love for her and her family. “Oh well, I suppose it’s all right if you know all this, doll. After all, you and Tyler have been going together, for what is it . . . four years now?” “Five years this weekend.” Vicki beamed and gave me a warm and awkward side hug. “Shall we be getting back now? I bet everyone is already hungry again.” Back at the house, I lounged on the couch watching Kim pluck his red guitar as he sang Hank Williams under his breath. I slowed my breathing to linger on each inhale, where the smoke from the wood stove caught in my throat. My hand trailed into Tyler’s while I thought about my conversation with Vicki. I had always adored Kim and Vicki, but I had thought of them mostly in the two-dimensional way young children think of their parents. I had a certain set of expectations about them that I 18
consistently reaffirmed; their front porch was painted like an American flag, portraits of John Wayne plastered their walls, their wine rack was made of horseshoes. For years I had seen these things as kitschy cowboy paraphernalia, but there was a sincerity and hopefulness to them too. It was the same hopefulness of the sun outside, and the deeprooted silver sage, and Tyler’s hand on my own on that fence five years ago. Until today, I had been proud of the secret place in the desert that held the memory of a dusty first kiss. I had believed that it was my place, my own special well of pure nostalgia. In reality, it was a corner of public land that had been trampled by horse hoofs of similarly jubilant lovers thirty-five years before. I am simply a part of that place’s cycle of hope for spring in deep February. The clouds gather blue into their fingers, and it’s time to go back to the city. It takes us a while to extricate ourselves from Vicki’s hugs and Kim’s good wishes, but at last we are stepping off the porch and onto the driveway. As we make our way down to the wide gate at the base of the driveway, Tyler stops and turns towards me sheepishly. He picks at his fingers nervously and asks me if I’m all right. “I’m sorry I didn’t go out with you on the walk today, honey. I hope my mom wasn’t too much. Let’s go out there soon, just you and I, okay?” I smiled at the ground and then looked up into his blue-sky eyes. “Absolutely, let’s go out there again. But maybe your mom and dad can come too.” He stops playing with his fingernails and swoops me into a hug. “Thank you, love. We’ll go on many walks together, I promise, especially when we move in together this summer. You, me, and the desert.” I nod, knowing full well that the bustle of life will probably keep us from walking in the Nevada desert very often, but I don’t mind. The Sierra and the Pine Nuts are still young mountains; they have millennia to grow closer towards the wide desert sky. I lock the gate’s chain behind me and turn for a kiss goodbye. As we lean over the fence, the wind worries the chaff from the ground into my mouth. I splutter and pull back, licking my smeared lips. On them I taste hope and dust.
Her clouded blue eyes look beyond him, seeking a different horizon where beauty still exists, away from this prison of peeling paint and barren fields. She aches to flee these wind-choked plains.
In his Sunday coat, he stares at a skyline of a shining city far from here, imagines life in a steely tower as a banker, a merchant, anything but a ruined farmer.
The pair stand side by side, grim tight-lipped survivors. He with ominous pitchfork, she in starched gingham. Colorless, hopeless, people of the earth anchored to a windswept wasteland.
after american gothic by grant wood
their horizons lost in the dustbowl
Together, they danced a hesitation waltz, every step a question and response. She followed his lead, dancing closer to the edge. In his eyes, she saw the spires of Paris, she would be his Zelda.
Once she was a damselfly, all lace and chiffon floating among shining young men celebrating the end of war. His light was brighter than the rest. She fluttered her wings, unable to escape his flame.
Once he watched the aces swoop and dive above the stink and mire of Flanders fields and he yearned to fly. But his weak eyes failed him, trapped him in trenches reeking of death, grounded â€™til the peace bells rang out.
Here they remain, a shriveled pair of swallowtails pinned through the heart.
They realized too late the lies the plains had toldâ€”they were trapped in a wretched dustbowl, choking on red dirt.
But the cunning plains tempted him with memories of velvet-eyed calves, fields of fragrant grass, silos packed with wheat. Paris faded from his eyes as the land beckoned. She surrendered, leapt with him: they tumbled to the earth.
i ate a seed off the floor ally messer
It was a little seed, striped and purple— maybe from the watermelon my 8-year-old mouth ate so sloppily. On the school bus, a stem grew up my esophagus out of my mouth replacing my head, not with a watermelon, but with a venus flytrap. The next day, my best friend Sidney met me at the bus stop. I didn’t see her at first— behind my new chin. But she didn’t seem to mind the way I wore my human face like a turtleneck. Will you have to take your school picture again? she asked. I shrugged.
diy emo house shows nicholas ruggieri
I’ll vote for whatever candidate promises to make DIY emo house shows a cool thing again. When you could put a pair of sunglasses over your black heart and tell everyone you ran into a door. In fact, even breaking your bones didn’t matter, because skeletons were everywhere. We’d summon mountain fog and mist for all sorts of reasons, from rage to romance, or scream until our teeth fell out. Sometimes we were so gentle they pronounced us dead. Other times we craved a stubbed toe, scared we had lost our ability to feel, but when in need of a quick fix, a simple ride on the bus was enough to quell that fear. Now I can’t figure out if I’m sad or if I’m just modern. Now I need to be told the weather so I don’t have to go outside. Now all I can do is take a hot shower to practice burning in Hell.
gone dominique kent
There are boots in the dark behind him in the night like the stone-cold end to a brave, stupid flight. The boy runs quick as only a boy can. This little boy still thinks he’s a man. There’s a toy in his fingers black like his skin full of little round bullets made of hollow, ugly tin. There’s a crime far behind him, a mother’s “What have you done?” Tomorrow she will know she has lost her only son. Little boys dressed like men, they think they cannot die. The bullet leaves the chamber too late for them to realize it’s a lie.
elliejean nestaval I’m ashy, I’m shaking, I’m ripping at the seams without so much as a clue as to which hand clutches the thread splitter, but she has a tendency of wearing unbuttoned jackets with no shirt underneath anyway. My life vest is off and my raft is leaking, I guess I shouldn’t have punched a hole in the drywall after all; forgive me, honey. My voice is clunking, bumping, running into every window without so much as trying to open the door. Blame it on my self-proclaimed dystrophy, my self-induced degeneration. I’m a bee at full speed, trajectory aimed at the sage-scented parked car. The flowers couldn’t handle me anymore, honey. I couldn’t handle the flour anymore, honey. Would you look at that; you beat me to it. Beat me to the and with the—oh, beat me to the bottom of the spiked punch bowl, but don’t worry, I’ll be the one to apologize. Oh, how I thought that I would burn out, oh, how I wished that the pressure would turn me to diamond rather than split-pea soup.
after their drive on new year’s day he napped melanie perish
She wrote on the yellow legal pad, sat in the unfinished window seat. The large square pillow a friend gave them cushioned her back, the one they’d used in front of the fireplace last night. She thought she was going to write about last night—how the tip of her tongue drummed the tip of his left nipple, caught his breath and kept it, tasted it while certain of his cells stood like redwoods and certain of her cells did not, pooled instead like rainwater in a dimpled field. In the sun-strong window, she almost fell asleep, her eyes closed when the white wood shutters closed. The stream of unconscious light was still alive in them like the heat held in the hood of her new car— still alive while the engine that carried them cooled slowly by degrees.
something about not having anything ally messer
I press my forehead against the glass. Standing back, only to wipe messy streaks across it with my sleeve. I peer through shaky binocular hands and squint to see: A spaniel sprawled out on its designated sofa-chair. Potted plants, dangling from every table, shelf, and cabinetâ€” reaching, yearning to touch the floor. Depictions of rural Nevada hang on all walls; probably purchased in Genoa or Carson. Bookshelves pregnant with opals and trilobites stare down at me. Wind chimes flitter both inside and out; shaken by the mountain breeze. A set table, empty but pristine, waits for its family to join it in feast. Lastly, a sigh; one from my mouth, one that doesnâ€™t belong.
revelation across the desert daniel putney
1. The bees made their hive above the abandoned attic window. I asked you this a week ago: “Can we keep it?” “As long as it’s not wasps,” you replied. 2. When I moved in I insisted we alphabetize the bookshelf by first name, not last. I told you it was ironic that Birthday Letters was next to The Colossus, but you shrugged and walked off. 3. I recently cut my ring finger on a piece of copy paper. I sat on our dirty toilet seat and watched the blood form a scarlet bead before grabbing the first-aid kit. You handed me a Band-Aid and flashed me that Hughes smile she and I used to love. I thought about the bees.
4. A year ago I crossed the desert for you, and you stood waiting by the Oasis of Nevada. I jokingly thought you were my Savior in Blue, Aryan neo-Nazi. Maybe it was her guiding me; I’ve always said she’s in my blood. 5. A bee got in the backdoor and startled the dogs. You swatted it with a handful of bills before scooping it up and depositing the body behind our greenhouse. I didn’t have a chance to ask about the hive. 6. Sylvia, tell me, should I leave here?
These barnacles, burnt charcoal, mussel shells scrubbed metal-blue are from Oregon and the time my hair was so short—I was more of a boy. I plucked them from the sand, and the claws of crabs long dead, and tossed them to the floor of my aunt’s car once the man came to undo her clumsiness. Remember: the granules everywhere, the sun rubbing my feet tan around my sandal straps—how we were late everywhere that week and our fingertips were ink-rubbed, grey. Carving life into copper is easy—filling it with color and buffing it out again, breathing it in, breathing through holes in tarlatan, breathing out a collection of self.
the last painting shelby tanoue
Richard always wanted to be a painter. He had started with watercolors in high school and had been painting ever since. Now he was almost thirty. He was making a decent living as a university art professor; he thought painting landscapes on the side might give him a sense of deep fulfillment. Even with half a dozen commissions he felt nothing. The rich folks in Scott’s Valley loved filling their luxurious houses with his paintings. Whenever he dropped them off they boasted about how when he became famous, they would have precious art created before he made it big. But art hasn’t been the same for him since Sophie died. He drove his old truck up the rough mountain road, the bed full of canvases. He waved as some of his patrons raced by him on the narrow road in their sleek sports cars. Richard stood out in this neighborhood; he wasn’t rich at all. He had been saving for years until he could finally build a small house tucked away in the forest away from the mansions. After seemingly endless wide turns and a couple more sports cars, Richard took the turn onto the dirt road. He bounced in the seat of the idling truck as he pulled a few envelopes out of his tin mailbox. Richard watched the pale blue house appear over the hill. He parked outside of the blue picket fence that matched the paint on the house. He tried not to look at the barren yard where he had hoped there would have been a small garden of flowers and vegetables. The truth was that Richard didn’t particularly care for the outdoors. No, he 37
had built this house as a surprise for Sophie. She adored nature. He shook the thought out of his head and immediately got to work unloading canvases and his easel. After his art supplies were unloaded, he flung the letters onto the kitchen counter without opening them. He took a can of Mountain Dew out of the fridge and contemplated what his game plan for the day was. His cellphone buzzed in his jacket pocket. It was a text from his sister. “Please come home. Stella has been asking for you. I know today is hard for you, but it’s your daughter’s birthday on Sunday.” Richard closed the message and looked upstairs at the open door to the second bedroom. Pink walls with large, painted daisies and sunflowers sprouting from the floors were barely visible. Richard had been insisting to Angie that the house was not finished. The truth was the house had been finished for four years. It was meant to be a gift for Sophie after Stella was born. Richard leaned on the counter and ran his fingers through his unwashed hair. On the fridge was a calendar featuring Van Gogh paintings. Tomorrow was circled in red; of course he knew tomorrow was Stella’s birthday. But it was also the four-year anniversary of Sophie’s death. Without replying, Richard threw his phone into his backpack with his paint. He gathered two canvases and his fold-up easel in his arms and set off on his hike away from the house. The forest was quiet, serene, but lonely. He gazed up at the sunbeams leaking from the canopy to the dim dirt path. There were only the sound of the leaves brushing against one another in the wind, the songs of distant birds in the trees, and his solitary footsteps. He had been living in the forest alone for some time now. He had not seen Stella since Sophie’s death. In his state, he felt Angie would be a better parent for Stella until he could get his shit together. Richard stopped in a clearing where the wild flowers were bathed in the midafternoon sunshine. He was awestruck by the colors swirling around this little piece of land as if it were frozen in time. He set his canvases against a tree and his easel in the path where the trees opened into the clearing. The trees would frame the scene—he wanted the contrast between the dim path and the bright clearing. He had come at the perfect time of the day. There was a crisp breeze gliding through the treetops. Richard watched them as he blended paint. Acrylic paint was a pain to blend, but he found a way. He focused his eyes on the leaves. Where the sun hit the color was rich and the leaves shined and seemed to emanate warmth and happiness. Richard began coming to this forest in college. Almost no one else did, which meant Richard could be left alone to paint. In particular, he enjoyed painting animals. It was his sophomore year when he decided to take a day trip to the forest. He had packed a few 38
watercolors, which he set on the blanket he had laid out to protect himself from the grass that was damp with morning dew. He was painting birds in the branches above. He had to hold the corners of the paper so the breeze wouldn’t carry them away. “What are you painting?” A woman’s voice came from behind him and alarmed the birds. They looked around and lifted their wings. Richard shushed her and painted feverishly before the birds took flight. “I’m sorry,” Richard said. “I’m painting those birds over there.” “It’s alright. They are beautiful,” she whispered and gingerly sat beside him. Despite the woman’s efforts to be quiet, the birds launched themselves from the branch and through the treetops to the sky. Richard stifled a sigh and finally turned towards the woman next to him. She was sitting with her legs crossed and a little red notebook in her lap. She was leaning close to Richard’s shoulder to get a better look at his painting. “I’m Sophie,” she said without looking at him. “Do you go to school here?” “Um, yes, I do. I’m an art major.” She looked up and smiled at him expectedly. “And my name is Richard,” he added. “Nice to meet you, Richard! You’re quite a painter. I wish I could paint.” Sophie stretched out her legs with a sigh and leaned back on her arms, notebook in hand. “All I can do is play with words. I’m studying poetry.” Richard was inept when it came to words. She probably thought he was an idiot that could hardly have a conversation let alone write poetry. But she never once let on that she thought he was an idiot. They talked for hours about nature. When she talked she threw her arms about. She wore a yellow sundress—later he learned that she loved dresses because they made her feel like a flower. Her brown hair was braided tightly and fell over one shoulder. Richard thought how the sun danced off of it the same way it did the birds’ feathers. With the last of the sunshine retreating behind the trees, Richard added the last details: glistening water droplets from yesterday’s rain. He stood up and took a few steps back to admire his work when he spotted something in the scene that he didn’t remember painting. It was a woman. She wore a flowing red dress walking between the trees. She looked back at Richard as if she had just noticed him while taking a stroll. She was too far away to have a face, but he knew that she was a woman because of long brown strands of hair wafting in the wind and the slender shape of her face. Maybe it was stress. After walking for some time he decided that he couldn’t paint in such dim 39
light. That one painting had taken much longer than Richard expected. The rest of the day he had been half expecting to encounter her again. As he struggled to keep the fresh paint from smearing on the canvas, Richard wondered how he had lost himself in a painting like that. Surely he would have noticed painting a girl into the scenery. He often painted people in his landscapes, not because they were there, but to accent the painting and to add a little life. It was Sophie who gave him that idea when he first started painting landscapes. He must have thought the painting needed more life in it. When he reached home, the moon was already high in the night sky. He dropped his backpack on the dining-room table and then set the single painting against the living room wall. He collapsed on his makeshift bed on the couch. He had not slept in the bedroom at all since he bought this house. He pulled his blanket over his shoulder and turned to stare at the painting across the room. Something about the painting frightened him. He thought that perhaps it was the flickering light of the fireplace that distorted the colors. Then he set his eyes on the red among the trees—the faceless girl. What if this girl is still walking around the mountains alone? Richard didn’t know whether to be worried for her or scared for himself. All he knew for certain was that she gave him the chills. So he jumped off the couch to lock the door and shut the curtains that overlooked the dark forest. He decided to move the painting outside where it would dry better anyway. When he returned to the couch and again pulled the blankets over his shoulders, he thought about the painting in the dark and out of sight. Somehow not being able to see the painting made him even more anxious than before. Suppose the girl in the painting was walking about inside the scene, as if she only existed within the painting? He had read something like that once but couldn’t remember where. That would explain why he didn’t happen upon her at all during the rest of his hike. He shook the ridiculous thought out of his head then pulled the blanket over his face and went to sleep. The next morning Richard set in the opposite direction from the day before with the intent to get more work done this time around. He found a brook filled with tiny fish and tadpoles. So he set up next to the water so that he could paint it at the base of the scene. To keep his mind from wandering, he focused on the beauty of the colors and the long and short strokes he made. “All goes onward and outward . . . and nothing collapses. And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” “I liked that one. Who is it by again?” Richard asked. He is painting a rabbit on the other side of the clearing where he and Sophie sat. “Oh my God, Richard. For the hundredth time.” She held up the book with the cover 40
facing him. “Ah. Walt Whitman. I’m sorry I forgot,” he said. “Damn!” Something startled the rabbit and it leaped into the brush and was gone, but Richard had not finished painting it. “Don’t you remember what it looks like?” Sophie kicked her legs from her seat on a nearby stump. Richard shook his head. “Well,” she said, “I think movement is good. Maybe you should just paint the way things move. Movement is life. And don’t you want your work to be lifelike?” Richard was busy trying to paint from memory. “Paint the dancing sunbeams that leak through the cracks in the treetops, the rustling leaves, the animals that race across the ground—movement is life!” Richard stops and looks up at her. She is still talking, her eyes closed, arms outstretched as if she is receiving her words from the forest itself. “You’re lovely,” he said. He then set down his sketchbook and got down on one knee. When he had finished he stood back to survey his work but caught it right away. The woman in the red dress. He nearly fell into the brook when he tried to look behind the painting. Again, there was no one there and there was no sign of anyone having been there. “Hello?” He called out into the trees. Nothing. Was he losing it? Nothing but birds and frogs answered back. Yet he looked back at the painting and there she was again. Richard knew he had the tendency to get lost in his work, but he couldn’t understand how he could have painted something and not remembered that he had done it. He noticed that the woman in the painting had something of a face now. Her eyes had appeared, but they were still only barely shadows; her mouth was slightly open as if she were about to call out to him. She was looking back at him curiously from behind the second layer of trees maybe only fifteen feet from where he stood now. One of her hands was on the trunk of a tree and one foot stepped over its roots. Her gaze seemed fixed on him from no matter what angle he viewed the painting. Once again more time had passed than he had expected. The sun was already in the middle of the sky. Still plenty of time. He set up another canvas in the same spot and began painting the same scene. “Richard, please come home.” “I’m sorry, Sophie. I just have a little more work to do,” Richard said into the phone. He leaned against a tree because he couldn’t stand to hear Sophie cry. “You’re almost never home anymore. I never see you! You’re always working,” she said. “Why can’t I come with you like when we were in college?” 41
anita savell Richard was tempted to just tell her. He opened his mouth to tell her the truth. “God, I’m sorry, Richard. I know you need to focus on your work. I have a lot of papers to grade anyway.” Richard felt defeated, but closed his mouth and smiled. It will all be worth it in the end. “I love you, honey. I’ll be home soon. I promise.” He hung up and returned his phone to his pocket. “Okay, Adam, so how is it looking?” “It should be done on time. My boys can work faster if you want,” Adam said. “No, it’s alright. Take your time,” Richard said. “I want everything to be perfect.” The house was nothing but beams and flooring. Richard was determined to oversee the construction of Sophie’s dream house while he was in the forest painting to pay for it. By the time he finished the second painting, the late afternoon light made it difficult to see. He had painted the rays of light slanting in two directions. They all pointed down to the middle of the clearing right on the other side of the brook. There she stood, in the painting not three feet away in a natural spotlight. Not only that, she 42
was a woman he was terrified to paint for fear of falling short of her beauty. She was his wife—Sophie. The dress, he felt he knew this whole time. That was the dress she insisted on being married in because red was her favorite color and she felt white was bland and boring. Richard sat in the cold grass, staring at the painting for a long time until he realized that he should have used the rest of the light to paint one more. He hadn’t been able to think about her or even look at a photo of her in months. But it was too late now, so he had no choice but to pack up and head back to the house before the night chill set in. Richard had been avoiding thinking about Sophie for two long years. He had thrown photographs, birthday cards, and other knick-knacks to do with her in a locked closet when he moved all of their belongings to the new house. If she was brought up in conversation, Richard would quickly change the subject. She was too painful to acknowledge after she was gone. Back at home, he held the painting to the light and lightly touched Sophie’s face. In her long dress he could barely see the bulge of her stomach. He would not have noticed it either had he not seen her hand resting on it protectively. With the other hand she seemed to be either waving or beckoning. He set these two paintings outside with the first. That night he dreamt of her. It was the day Stella was born. The hospital smelled too clean and the doctors made him wear scrubs. Little Stella was healthy, perfect, and beautiful. But after Stella was out, Sophie wouldn’t stop bleeding. She cried and told Richard she was scared. He squeezed her hand but was whisked out by a nurse while doctors and nurses surrounded Sophie. He stared up at the door and held Stella in his arms. He cried out for Sophie and when suddenly her screaming stopped the silence physically hurt him. Richard woke up crying and clutching his pillow where Stella had been a moment ago. The sun was barely peeking over the treetops, but he scrambled in the dim light into jeans and a T-shirt and shoved his boots on. He grabbed a canvas and his easel and stormed out of the house. He walked to the clearing from the first day and spent the entire morning painting. “What about Rosie?” Richard contemplated Rosie for a moment before scrunching up his nose and shaking his head. “I don’t know about naming her after a flower,” he said. “It seems a bit cliché.” They lay in the grass looking up at the stars through the branches. Sophie had her head on Richard’s shoulder and rested her hands on her belly. They don’t say anything for a while and listen to the sounds of crickets and an owl hiding somewhere in the trees. 43
“Paint the stars, Richard,” Sophie laughs and nudges Richard in the ribs. “Hmm, no, I don’t think I could do them justice,” he said. “It’s the same reason I don’t paint you.” Sophie scooted closer to Richard and scoffed. “Oh stop,” she said. They stared at the stars in silence. “What about Stella?” Richard thought about this and then nodded in approval. “Yes, I like Stella.” He turned and kissed Sophie’s forehead, and they began debating whether Stella would be a great poet or a great painter. The sun was shining through the branches straight above him when he finished the final details. He dropped his brush and took a step back. She wasn’t in the background anymore; she was in the center. Richard covered his mouth to hold back a sob and fell to the ground in despair. He looked at the painting; she was smiling, laughing, and pulling back her hair. With her other hand she beckoned him. He went back to the house and set the painting outside against the house where he had left the others so he wouldn’t have to look at it. He went for a walk and was so lost in grief that he didn’t notice the darkness that had fallen. Dark clouds had gathered and it had begun to pour rain. “No! Shit!” Richard ran back to the house. When he finally reached home he watched helplessly as the wet paint bled into the grass until the paintings were no more than streaks of color. The soil from the bare flower beds had turned to mud and ruined the bottom of the paintings. Then he noticed the white Mercedes parked next to his truck. There were lights on in the house. How had she found him? No one knew where he had built this house. She must have talked to the builders. He gathered up the courage to open the front door to face his sister inside. “Richard! Thank God!” He was assaulted by a hug and several kisses on the cheek and forehead. “I was worried that you were caught somewhere out here in this storm! You suck at keeping tabs on the weather. How hard is it to check your cellphone before you go out to paint?” “No, I’m fine,” Richard freed himself from her arms and took a step back. “Why are you here?” Angie threw her black hair over her shoulder and held his phone up. “I’ve been calling you. I must have called you fifteen times this weekend!” He must have left his phone on the coffee table. “Why?” “Don’t you know what today is?” Her smile suddenly became forced. He would have to lie. “I’m afraid I don’t.” 44
Angie sighed and gestured into the living room. “It’s your daughter’s birthday since I’m assuming you didn’t read any of my messages.” Stella sat on the couch staring at him. Angie had dressed her in a purple rain coat and polka-dot rain boots. She still had her hood pulled up but he could still see strands of chocolate brown hair. “Stella, tell Daddy how old you are today,” Angie turned towards the living room. Richard walked over to Stella and kneeled in front of her. She smiled at him and gave him a clumsy wave. “Daddy, I’m four!” Stella held up four tiny fingers and laughed. “That’s right,” Richard took a deep breath and choked back tears. “You look just like your mother.” He turned to Angie to show her the pain she was causing him. Angie raised her eyebrows at him and rolled her eyes. “Mama,” Stella reached over the side of the couch to grab damp canvas. She tugged on it until Richard lifted it and propped it up next to her on the couch. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the painting of Sophie by the brook, waving. Stella turned to sit on her legs and ran her fingers over the textured leaves. “We got here right when it started to rain,” Angie said. “We saw those paintings sitting out there. I’m sorry we only had time to save one. I tried to go out and bring more in, but I figured it would just make a mess of mud and paint in here.” She looked around and the house, craning her neck to get a look at the second story. Her expression turned from cross to secretly impressed. “That’s perfect,” Richard lifted Stella into his arms. “This is your birthday present. Happy birthday, Stella.”
sabrina abero 46
inspirited laurie petersen
There was the dark after the Crazy Horse when I drove home at a hundred five and the mixup at the Monopole when a guy thought I was a hooker, but I was young enough almost to be flattered, and the night at the Rusty Nail the year my father ran it for my aunt when I helped him close up, then during the two-hour drive home got stuck in a snowstorm and slept on my friend Fred’s living-room floor off the Pulaski exit. But most of the time I wasn’t the one passed out in puke in the men’s room at two a.m. I was the one who brought a book to the bar or sewed my ratty shirtseams back together, picking my feet up around the fights because I only wanted noise and not to be alone, so I stayed camouflaged in chaos as I worked up someone spirited enough to be.
by word of mouth
maya claiborne 48
nine hours ahead bailey m. gamberg
When your fingertips were cold, pressed, molding into me, I never foreshadowed the cowardice dripping from them, emanating from the bone. I own most of myself besides the fragments shattered stuck on flannel threads and bed sheets. Home isnâ€™t 5,000 miles away itâ€™s strewn between every wind shaft, every wish tunnel, every wild night from here to there.
“How was—” when the sounds first issue from her chest it’s not necessarily making me feel uneasy. Yes, there’s a muffled click, thump, ka-ching punctuating her breaths, but she’s not acting any differently, so neither am I. It might be a medical condition—and that might be putting it too lightly—but I get the feeling she had her left lung surgically replaced when she was fourteen with a fully functioning typewriter. It makes sense—given the sounds I’m hearing, click, thump, ka-ching—except for the part where it doesn’t make any sense at all. Why would anyone need to do that? I bet she was born bi-vocal. She had two voices competing for her tongue, and only had conscious control of one of them. The second voice spoke whatever she was thinking at any given moment, so her doctor had it rerouted into the typewriter, that way it could channel itself into another medium without intruding on her day-to-day life. I should drop this idea. Click, thump, ka-ching. Aren’t typewriters hard to maintain? What about the ink? The paper? How could she manage? There’d have to be an access panel behind her shoulder blade. I wish I could check. I wish I could look at her from behind and see two screws holding a plate of flesh-colored polymer against her skin. Her purse is suspiciously large, and she’d have to keep a set of emergency supplies just in case the typewriter jammed. If it did, that second voice would have to use the first voice’s lung, and things would get messy. Does she read what’s typed? I guess it would be boring, maybe even embarrassing, reading things you’d never actually say. Click, thump, ka-ching and I’m wondering how carefully she’s going to choose her words, but this all happens in a breath, until, “—your weekend?”
click, thump, ka-ching
sky burial dominique price
I want my body returned to the Earth. As penance: for the lives I’ve consumed, the fire I’ve breathed, for the dreams I’ve turned to ashes. I want it to decay on a mountain. Laid bare for the sky to see. For soft flesh to be consumed by maggots, the buzzards to devour my tongue, for the wolves to descend and tear muscle from bone. I want my bones bleached by the harsh sunlight, for the beetles and ants to carry what is left away, for my bones to be ground up underfoot, made into the cosmic dust that will someday form you.
anna benedict 53
visual arts editor
The Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal is the oldest literature & arts journal at the University of Nevada, Reno. Established in 1950, this biannual publication provides an opportunity for emerging artists and writers to publish and share their work. With each iteration of the Brushfire, we strive to represent the diversity, originality, and interests of our community. The font Athelas is the body copy throughout the book. bookman old style is used for the headline text. A. Carlisle & Company of Nevada printed this FSC-certified, 8.5 x 6.5-inch book on 100-pound paper. With the artistâ€™s permission, we have intermittently placed segments of wannabe throughout this journal to carry on its aesthetic. As a UNR organization, we also strive to be the creative outlet for our student body. Our priority is to connect with the various art communities throughout Reno. However, anyone may submit to Brushfire. We continually receive and publish art from across the country. So while Brushfire is centered around locality, we strive for inclusivity and do not reject art based on the location of artists. We would like to give a special shout-out to our media adviser, Blythe Steelman. You helped with all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that allows this publication to exist in the first place. Weâ€™d like to give special thanks to all of our volunteers as well for helping with workshops and events. Finally, to all of our submitters: we greatly appreciate your creativity, dedication, and love for the arts and freedom of expression. You are what makes Brushfire unique. Thank you.
WANT TO HAVE YOUR WORK PUBLISHED IN THE BRUSHFIRE? Brushfire publishes bianually. We accept all printable forms of art. Our deadlines for the spring and fall semesters can be found online. To learn more about submitting, visit us at unrbrushfire.org. Have beef with the journal? Let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ÂŠ 2016 Brushfire and its individual contributors. All rights reserved by the respective artists. Original work is used with the expressed permission of the artists. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher. The opinions expressed in this publication and its associated website and social media are not necessarily those of the University of Nevada, Reno, or of the student body.
journal design front cover art artist back cover poem author
: brushfire staff : wannabe : katera neil : when you have a dog : nicholas ruggieri
Commercial print: A. Carlisle & Company of Nevada
when you have a dog I tell everyone I meet that I had just gotten my breaks checked when they find out I ran over my own dog. I just want them to know it was not an accident. She wanted me to do it. That spark plug lodged in her chest. The engine belt wrapped around her brain. I tried to help her restart something that had fizzled out a long time ago.